Chitina-to-Valdez-to-Anchorage-and beyond. This post is going to be all over the map. Emotionally, metaphorically, geographically… you pick. If your choice was emotionally or metaphorically, you probably found my blog in error. Spellcheck incorrectly sent you to this blog when what you tried to type in was travelwithinterestingpeople.com. Spellcheck: preferred by 9 out of 10 sociopaths.
We left Wrangell-St. Elias NP behind us and headed towards Valdez. For you Lower 48’ers, it is pronounced ValDEEZ. A fellow boater in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park had told us that if we did nothing else while in Alaska, we needed to go see Prince William Sound, of which Valdez is on the eastern side.
Now before you refill your coffee cup, take your anti-drowse pills, or other anti-blog-induced-coma meds, be forewarned: We did go to Valdez (ever so briefly), but not to Prince William Sound on this visit; rain and very low clouds just made it something we will delay and revisit later in our trip.
The road into Valdez, coming from Chitina, is amazing. Actually, in Alaska they don’t call them roads – they are called highways. Either way, great mountain and glacial views.
Before arriving in Valdez, we wanted to camp for the night – somewhere. As we are going through this canyon, between a river and a gorgeous waterfall is this flat area along the road that just screams campground for the night!
And not a quarter mile further downstream was Bridal Veil Falls.
Think of Valdez as the Alaskan version of Gloucester, MA, even though Gloucester is probably 10x the size of Valdez. At its heart Valdez is a true commercial and sport fishing town with a population of about 4,000 residents. It is also a very important freight and oil terminal, with a highway that helps supply Fairbanks to its north. The Trans-Alaska pipeline terminates at Valdez, having carried oil from Prudhoe Bay; Valdez was selected as it is the nearest ice-free port. Many people will recall the horrible oil spill nearly 30 years ago from the fuel tanker Exxon Valdez, which ran aground outside of Port Valdez.
The sport fishing is a big deal, and I finally got my Alaskan Halibut at a restaurant here (no cleaning for me this time).
After leaving Valdez, we went back up the Edgarton Highway and headed west on the Glenn Highway in around the Glennallen area.
The Glenn Highway (Route 4), leading into the Anchorage area, is spectacular. Now again, due to a low ceiling and marginal weather, we were not able to see this area in all its brilliance, but for sure there are amazing views of the mountains, glaciers, rivers and lakes almost throughout this drive. And once again, we camped on the side of the road.
We headed to Anchorage largely because, after these many thousands of miles and grueling roads, we were in need of some minor trailer repairs and we wanted a full-service campground to perform these tasks. Now those who know me know how handy I am (not), and that my least favorite thing in the world is to fix something that needs fixin’. With that in mind, keep also in mind one of Karen’s sayings, “If you can’t be handsome be handy”. Oh, crap.
So under the trailer I go to replace a fresh water drain valve, re-attach the steps to the trailer, replace the faucet in the kitchen, and a few other minor fix-up things. The steps in one corner had ripped from the belly pan and had become loose, providing a little spring in your step, but not necessarily the spring you were after. A trip to Lowe’s, a little money changing hands, and I had the parts I needed – problems solved.
With repairs completed we left Anchorage to begin our trek north towards Denali. The route took us up the Park Highway through Wasilla. In Wasilla is the Iditarod Trail Race Headquarters! The famous sled dog race that goes 1,049 miles to Nome: “The Last Great Race on Earth”.
We visited on a day when not only was the headquarters open but they were providing dog sled rides! Now the sled was more like a golf cart without an engine because there was no snow, but how cool! While apparently there is some controversy over the use of dogs to pull these sleds, these dogs are pampered by their owners. Telling a sled dog not to run would be like telling a Lab not to swim, or telling Dottie not to roll on her back and demand attention. It is just what they love to do, and it is evident. You cannot tell from these pictures, but on the sled ride we were flying!! And Karen got to hold a baby.
We continued our journey north from Wasilla towards Denali and stopped for the night by the side of the Susitna River. It is so nice to have so many camping options as you travel through Alaska! We pulled in and camped right on the river’s edge – no fuss, no muss.
We also stopped in at the small town of Talkeetna, which is the staging area for those who hike Denali. Apparently it has also become the staging area for cruise ship tours, so you probably get the picture. It is still a cute town, but I am sure was much cuter and nicer before the cruise tours descended with their buses. We did, though, get our first view of Denali, even though it is over 100 miles away (from Talkeetna); just a tease.
Our last staging stop before reaching Denali National Park was actually in Denali State Park at Byers Lake, maybe 60-70 miles down the road from the national park entrance.
This (Byers Lake) is a beautiful campground, but not uncharacteristically has no water or electric. At $20 per night, it is still a beautiful place to camp (campground road the exception – what a disaster!), where we camped for a few nights. We hiked a 5+ mile hike around the lake, and the next day I paddled around the lake – just gorgeous.
Last night we had a visitor to our campsite – a moose and her calf. I was only able to get off a few quick pictures before they blended back into the woods but it was so cool to see them.
Next stop? Denali.